Dr. Philip Rous is provost and senior vice president for academic affairs of University of Maryland Baltimore County. He has been at UMBC for 29 years, both as a faculty member and administrator. He tries to facilitate the community as a whole to grow and expand.
Founded in 1966, UMBC is a relatively young public research university that is building a new model of a modern university. The campus, which currently has 14,000 students, emphasizes a liberal arts foundation at the undergraduate level, and science, engineering, information technology, human services and public policy at the graduate level.
Weighing in on Shared Responsibility
Dr. Rous prefers the term “shared responsibility” instead of shared governance, believing that this term recognizes that universities cannot function without some degree of shared responsibilities. This ranges from the faculty taking primary responsibly for curriculum and program design while administration takes responsibility for some aspects of the budget. However, everyone on the campus shares in the responsibility, which is derived from a set of shared values.
This reframing opens up the conversation and also reveals solutions that are encountered with shared governance. Individuals also are able to think more deeply about values as well as to consider the values that different stakeholders share.
Dr. Rous feels that taking this approach helps governance move forward through a weighted decision-making process, i.e., that while decisions are shared, they are differently weighted based on the type of decision. For example, faculty’ voices are given more weight in making decisions in certain specific areas such as curriculum and programs, while administration carries more weight regarding decisions in other areas such as parking lots, budgets, and the like. There also are some areas where there is sufficient overlap in decision-making, requiring faculty and administration to work together.
Founding shared responsibility on shared values helps guide stakeholders when making sticky decisions. These shared values quickly become evident across campus. For example, Dr. Rous typically meets with teams from other universities after they have visited UMBC. These teams often ask him how he was able to get everyone to tell the same stories on campus. Dr. Rous responds that this is a characteristic of the institution, even though the institution doesn’t have a values statement. He credits these common values to the institution’s relatively young age and that the individuals who are part of UMBC’s founding and growth were very intentional in emphasizing the values that they felt were important. This carries through to current times; for example, when hiring for a position, the university seeks and hires only individuals who share both the institutional values and strong expertise.
A Faculty Flow to Leadership
Many of the individuals who move into UMBC’s top leadership positions, including provost and deans, also have been active in shared governance on the faculty side before taking on these roles. For example, Dr. Rous is a former president of the university’s faculty senate. The former dean of arts, humanities and social sciences also was a UMBC’s faculty senate president while the current dean and the associate provost also served in that role with the faculty senate at other institutions.
Because of this pipeline, Dr. Rous believes the people who are moving into these leadership positions understand the responsibilities, share the institutional values, and want to make a difference. They often see part of their career spent serving in administration and supporting the institution as a whole.
Early in the institution’s history, there was no formal leadership development training. However, the early leaders realize that leadership development was really needed on the campus and began to develop avenues to support emerging leaders. Dr. Rous believes that one of the fundamental responsibilities of a leader is to nurture the next generation of leaders.
There now is a formal training available for individuals who are incoming department chairs. The institution now taps national organizations’ training, such as the American Council on Education Fellows Program through hosting its fellows on campus and nominating UMBC faculty who have leadership potential to serve as fellows for a year. Many of these individuals have moved into leadership positions or are capable of doing so, thus creating a leadership pipeline.
Sharing information also is important to good shared governance. At UMBC, the shared governance heads (e.g., president of the faculty senate) serve on the president’s council with all the deans and vice presidents. Their inclusion helps advance the shared governance heads’ understanding of how the university works and how top administrators interact in relation to complicated issues.
Communication also is important. Dr. Rous believes there can never be enough communication and transparency, especially in complex institutions such as colleges and universities. Often, when there is a disagreement, it arises because one stakeholder doesn’t have a piece of information that the other one does. Dr. Rous noted that as a faculty member, he didn’t fully understand many of the key decisions made by the administration. He began to learn to take into account the complexity of these decisions once he served as faculty senate president.
Faculty members who are involved in research and teaching shouldn’t be expected to understand the ins and outs of the budget – this isn’t what the institution is asking the faculty member to do. With shared governance, it’s important to provide enough transparency and information to faculty members to help them understand the various aspects of a decision.
3 Recommendations for Higher Education Leaders
Dr. Rous suggested three take-aways for university presidents:
- Institutions must have a common set of shared values and have stakeholders realize there are these shared values, especially during moments of disagreement.
- Trust is vital and must be earned. Trust doesn’t come automatically. It comes through developing the trust by demonstrating it continuously through doing what you say it will do and listening. Trust goes both ways among leadership and faculty. Sometimes it takes time to develop trust.
- There must be respect for shared governance. The administrators need to make sure that what they say or do is in alignment with shared governance. It’s also important for administrators to personally demonstrate their own commitment to shared governance and protect it at the institution, even though it may take more time to make a decision.
- Shared responsibility provides another way of thinking about shared governance.
- Weighting decision-making responsibility can help smooth out discord.
- Having shared institutional values can give a point of reference when various stakeholders make decisions.
- Open communication and transparency are crucial to foster shared governance and shared responsibility.
- Faculty leaders should be developed for institutional administration positions. These individuals have experience at the faculty level as well as in faculty leadership. Those perspectives will help them navigate the challenges faced at the institutional level.
- Faculty as well as faculty leaders need to be provided with a wide range of information to help them fully understand complex issues. They often do not have complete information so they may have a limited perspective and be making (or resisting) decisions from an uninformed place.
Links to Articles, Apps, or websites mentioned during the interview:
- President Speaks: Shared governance key to becoming an “empowered university”
- University of Maryland – Baltimore County (UMBC)
- Bio of Dr. Philip Rous
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